Majozi: Why does anyone care that Christo Wiese, Stephen Saad are ‘stinking rich’?

Figures released by international charity Oxfam have highlighted the disparity in fortunes between business players like retail tycoon Christo Wiese, pharmaceutical industry entrepreneur Stephen Saad and mining boss Ivan Glasenberg and the rest of us.

The wealth of these three men, says Oxfam, is equivalent to the bottom half of the country’s population. Oxfam has been campaigning for sweeping change to global tax systems, arguing that corporate tax-dodging is one of the ways the wealthy amass their fortunes on the backs of ordinary citizens.

Mean wages and other practices have been noted, too. The news that these men and others – from Microsoft founder Bill Gates to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg – are so staggeringly rich while millions of people suffer in poverty has garnered headlines and sparked outrage among people who are pushing for economic and political change.

Phumlani Majozi, a policy fellow at a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty, appeals for calm and reason. In this piece, Majozi explains why we are concentrating on the wrong numbers.

Let’s stop obsessing about the billionaires – they are ‘unnecessary distractions’. Instead, Majozi argues, pay close attention to what we can do to improve the chances of more people improving their own financial situations. Majozi outlines some suggestions to open up opportunities for the talented and ambitious.- Jackie Cameron

By Phumlani M. Majozi

The world’s elite, heads of states, heads of NGOs, heads of businesses, leading journalists, is in Davos, Switzerland, this week, for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

This year’s theme, is ‘Responsive and Responsible Leadership’. In a world that has become chaotic, unsafe, with low economic growth – needing strong, visionary leadership – this theme couldn’t be more fitting.

A leadership highly prepared to confront today’s pressing global challenges is desperately needed.

And the first step for this responsive, responsible, strong, visionary leadership will have to be the objective analysis of the socioeconomic problems we face. Among these socioeconomic problems, and perhaps the biggest, are poverty and lack of opportunity.

Yes, we have made significant strides on the fight against poverty post-Cold War, but millions still live in desperate conditions in many regions around the world. Lifting these millions out of these deplorable conditions ought to be a major focus at the WEF, and other global platforms.

Sadly, the very much needed dialogue on how to strategically win the fight against poverty and open up opportunities for the millions around the world, is being disrupted by the obsession over income inequality. This obsession over how much Bill Gates or Patrice Motsepe earns in comparison to other individuals around the world, seems to be shaping the world’s discourse in platforms like the WEF.

Fellow South Africans, this obsession is unnecessary and is a serious distraction to what we must be paying attention to. To emphasise this point, there are two very important things that I must remind you about.

Firstly, there’s no way we can equalise people’s incomes because the differential results from different production skills, opportunities, culture, age, geography, and much more, that differentiates us as human beings in the world.

Common sense suggests it is irrational of us to expect the diverse millions of people around the world to have the same production skills to generate equal income and wealth. Not all of us can be rich, because not all of us can be neurosurgeons, or play football like Lionel Messi, or be musically talented like R. Kelly, or be innovative like Steve Jobs.

Let’s avoid being brainwashed by organisations like Oxfam International. Such organisations are run by ideologically-clouded socialists who are envious of successful people.

Oxfam spends huge amounts of effort compiling questionable reports on income inequality; reports that tell us nothing new. Inequality, Income inequality, dates back to thousands of years. It has always been a part of humanity. Production skills that produce income and wealth have never ever been the same across human history.

This fact does need to be highlighted in a world encased in false rhetoric by the elite in academia, non-profit organisations, media and politics.

Secondly, people’s incomes change over time. I’m confident that the majority of the elite seated in Davos this week did not make as much money in their lives as they do today. But over time, through their hard work and different jobs, their income rose.

The billionaires cited by Oxfam International every January were not always billionaires – they were ordinary people like most of us. Because of their brilliant entrepreneurial minds and ambition, they decided to start their businesses.

Those businesses increased their incomes to a point where they are billionaires today. In the process millions of lives around the world were improved and thousands of jobs were created.

What the elite must be focusing more on in Davos is education, job creation and opportunity – with the goal to end poverty. Let’s educate our people and let them compete in the market. Some will become billionaires, some will not.

Sustainable jobs need to be created through the private sector. These jobs will be different – some will pay low wages; some will pay higher wages. And evidence shows that the more you are educated, especially in the fields of science, mathematics and business, the more money you will make.

As the WEF is about to wrap up, it’s important that we get our points of discussion in such forums right. The elite, Oxfam International and all of us, must stop the obsession over billionaires and focus on the fight against poverty and opening up opportunities for the talented and ambitious.

Phumlani M. Majozi is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica

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